Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986.

Andy Devine was a college football player who moonlighted as a professional footballer, using an alias (Jeremiah Schwartz) in order to maintain his amateur status. His father operated a hotel and his mother was the granddaughter of the first Navy officer killed in the Civil War. His squeaky voice was said to be the result of a childhood injury suffered when he tripped while running through the lobby of his father’s hotel with a curtain rod in his mouth. After a brief stint as a Venice Beach lifeguard, he parlayed his experience driving six-horse teams as a young man growing up in Arizona into being cast in several small roles as a stagecoach driver in Hollywood westerns. His wheezing falsetto stood out among other hopeful actors, earned him bigger roles, and soon became his trademark. He came to fame as Jingles P. Jones, the buffoonish sidekick to television’s Wild Bill Hickok. Towards the end of his life, his name appeared in Jimmy Buffett’s song, Pencil Thin Mustache. 

In addition to being the sound of a cowboy’s spurs, a horse’s sleigh bells, and what some do with the loose change in their pockets, jingles are also staples of advertising – the brain-wormier, the better.

Here are nine famous jingles. Do you know the brands behind them?

    1. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.
    2. Give me a break, give me a break.
    3. Five. Five. Five dollar foot long.
    4. Double your pleasure, double your fun.
    5. You deserve a break today.
    6. Have it your way.
    7. Sometimes you feel like a nut.
    8. M’m! M’m! Good!
    9. Meow, meow, meow, meow…
Jingles are in decline as advertisers now favor licensing pre-existing pop songs.

When reduced to their essence and used without music, jingles became taglines, short phrases written to convey the core ideas of products and services: Finger-Lickin’ Good, Just Do It, Good to the last drop, Got Milk?

The Wall Street Journal is asking readers to help them choose a new tagline.

Survey takers are given a list of taglines and asked which best suits the Wall Street Journal. Here is the page from their online survey:

Presenting choices in this manner means survey takers must read all seven and then decide on a single “winner.”

This design flies in the face of cognitive understanding that tells us seven variables is too many for people to hold in short-term memory. Because the question is structured to elicit only a single response, all computers can do is high school math: add up the numbers and show what percent voted for each. This leaves analysts with nothing to do but report the preferences of beauty pageant judges. Notice how survey takers are not given the option to say “none of them do.”

As with most poorly-thought-out surveys, the design hamstrings the respondents and the analysts, depriving the Wall Street Journal of really useful data. Further, the word “taglines” is not part of regular folks’ vocabularies and should have been replaced with the word “phrases.” Questionnaires should always be written in consumer language and never in insider jargon.

A better way would be to present these seven choices one at a time.

Changing the format to showing only one at a time allows survey takers to consider each descriptive phrase separately. This format would be followed by a page that shows only the ones that we favored (our “finalists”) and asks us to choose the one we like best from among our self-defined subset. Analysts can see not only the “winners,” but also have aggregate data on all the phrases survey takers liked. Please don’t get hung up on “best suits”, “like”, and “favor,” because we can sort out our lingo later. The best survey pros always figure out the survey structure first and choose the most appropriate terminology last.

An even better way would change the way the questions are asked. 

This approach would also present only one phrase at a time. The difference is that now we ask survey takers to indicate if they like it, don’t like it, or have no opinion.

With seven variables each assigned one of three values (+1, -1, or 0), analysts now have 21 immediate data points instead of just one in the Journal’s version. This dramatically opens things up for them to do some very useful things with the data. Another advantage of this even better way is that decision-makers can see which phrases provoke sharply opposing reactions. It would be unwise to choose a simple majority winner that also happens to be perceived negatively by large numbers of readers. If two descriptive phrases each have the same number of positive votes, the one with the most negative votes would be a bad choice because it would alienate too many readers. In this case, the larger the gap between the likes and the don’t likes, the better.

Start at the end and work backwards.

How do we want to be able to use our survey results? Answering this question in detail guides us in determining what we need to learn in order to effectively use the information we are collecting, analyzing, and interpreting. Actionable insights are the end product of collecting all the data we will need and using all the data we collect. A full-blown analytical plan saves time in the long run because well-organized and fully-prepared analysts built dummy tables while the data are being collected and need only to insert the numbers when they arrive. Another advantage of preparing dummy tables is that they allow us to cross-check our early questionnaire responses to make certain we are collecting all the correct data. This is the mathematical equivalent of proofreading.

No one can make an insights silk purse out of a data’s sow’s ear. 

Preparing an analytical plan beforehand prevents decision-makers from asking after the fact for analyses that cannot be performed because the data format didn’t allow for it. Colleagues tell me they are often asked to unsnarl DIY survey messes and clients are unhappy when they are told their survey can’t deliver the goods. I’ve had frustrated people dump surveys in my lap and ask me to analyze the data in ways impossible with their design. I always decline the opportunity. Would it surprise you to learn the number one response I get when I ask to see survey designers’ analytical plans is “Huh?”

Rest assured.

Unless fully-engaged by study designers in advance, three out of four of the executives who paid for a study will be disappointed to learn how little value their survey design provides and wonder why they weren’t warned until it was too late to do anything about it. 

In case you didn’t click on the blue links already, I think you’ll enjoy the videos and songs of the sound of a cowboy’s spurs and Pencil Thin Mustache

*Brands
  1. Alka-Seltzer. The repetition encouraged customers to use two tablets.
  2. Kit-Kat. Composed by a classical violinist.
  3. Subway. The math no longer works for franchisees.
  4. Doublemint. They used identical twins in their ads.
  5. McDonalds. Named as the Jingle of the Century by Advertising Age.
  6. Burger King. Written in response to McDonalds “Two all-beef patties” jingle.
  7. Hershey. Simultaneous pitch for Almond Joy and Mounds.
  8. Campbell. It was the “B” side to the Modernaires’ single “Pennies from Heaven.”
  9. Meow Mix. Cats ask for it by name.

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